Thanks, Julie, for allowing me to guest post. In honor of this month’s theme of quirky questions, I decided to write about some of the fascinating facts I came across while writing my debut historical novel.
My editor (Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) was remorseless in cutting out facts that didn’t move the plot forward or deepen the characterization of my main character. Killing our darlings? She notched up to a whole ‘nother level.
But, of course, she was right—if kids wanted to read a compendium of interesting facts about the ancient world, they could easily get them off the web. I had to focus on the story—in this case, the story of what happened to Cleopatra’s daughter—Selene—the queen’s only child to survive into adulthood, after Egypt’s defeat by Rome. Cleopatra’s Moon is the story is of a young woman forced to come to terms with great loss and who must forge her own identity apart from the legacy of her famous mother.
As such, it wasn’t really the place to talk about kitten mummies or bedazzled pet crocodiles. But I can share some of the quirkiest facts here with you!
1. To fully defeat an enemy, you “peed” on ‘em (or, at least, a model of them). Ancient Egyptian magic “spells” for defeating enemies usually involved wax models of said enemy that you then stomped on, cursed, and finally, released your bladder on. Every morning the Priests of Ra did this on wax models of the forces of chaos that threatened the sun on its underworld journey to sunrise.
2. Egyptian physicians made you swallow their spells—literally. Often, they wrote a healing spell on a piece of papyrus and dunked the paper into a cup of beer. When the ink dissolved into the beer, they made you drink it, bringing the magic into yourself.
3. Eye-makeup (kohl) was toxic. The black kohl that made Egyptians so mysterious and gorgeous was actually made from neurotoxins. The Egyptians mixed lead compounds with duck or goose fat to make the eyeliner. The smell must have been…um, interesting.
4. If you killed a cat, you could be put to death. Seriously. If you killed a cat by accident (determined in court), then you simply paid a hefty fine. But if it wasn’t an accident, you were put to death. If you killed a Sacred Ibis, though, even by accident, there were no questions asked—you were immediately killed.
5. The fly was the symbol for a great warrior. That’s right, the fly. Why the fly? Because flies represented relentless, dogged pursuit of the enemy. The Order of the Fly was reserved for the greatest warriors. Fly amulets in either gold or ivory were highly prized and warriors were often buried wearing their golden fly charms.
Fortunately, there were plenty of other quirky facts that I got to keep in Cleopatra’s Moon, but for those, you may need to read the book. Thanks for having me here!